New Tech Tools Add Up for Future Math Teachers

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

The COVID-19 crisis this spring gave students in MTHED 427 Teaching Mathematics in Technology Intensive Environments an unexpectedly immersive educational experience. They, like every other math teacher in the tri-state area, were suddenly thrust into teaching (and learning how to teach) math remotely using a variety of technological tools.

To help with that transition, teacher organization and educational resource websites have been offering new professional development opportunities.

Recently, the students in MTHED 427, who are just a year or two away from being high school math teachers, were invited to participated in a virtual “unconference” centered around tools for teaching mathematics in an online environment. “21st Century Math: Engaging Online Students in Multi-Sensory Learning” was an all-day event offering various sessions that current and soon-to-be math teachers could attend virtually.

“As the title suggests, the ‘unconference’ is all about leveraging technology to teach mathematics in meaningful and engaging ways,” said Dr. Courtney Nagle, associate professor of math education. “It was an exciting opportunity for our students to be invited to attend.”

The students found it to be a valuable experience, not just because of the content covered, but also because they had the chance to interact with and learn from veteran mathematics teachers.

“There were a couple of hundred teachers in each of the sessions that I attended, and we got to interact at various points,” said Angela Dale, a junior dual majoring in Mathematics and Secondary Education in Mathematics. “In some sessions, we were sent to breakout rooms and given the chance to try different activities with the other teachers in that session. The interesting thing about that was that we were able to help one other with the software and explore a bit like students would do.”

Dale said one session piqued her interest in a new teaching tool.

“One of the sessions explored the role of music in the learning process,” Dale said. “I left the session wanting to know more about how they set up their platform and the topics the video covered. I definitely plan to look further into that concept.”

Taylor Montagna, a junior Secondary Education in Mathematics major, also attended the “unconference,” and learned a lot about the parental role in education.

“One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about parental un-involvement and how that can be addressed,” Montagna said. “I learned about ways I could handle that when I have my own classroom and students.”

Both Montagna and Dale think some of the online learning tools pressed into use during the COVID-19 crisis will remain a tool in the belts of high school math teachers.

“The activities we saw at the conference were very focused on promoting collaborative effort among students and making learning accessible for all students,” Dale said. “Some programs were games students could play at home to improve their math fluency, while others will help them continue to work with their peers to get a deeper understanding of the material that is being taught in class. I think teachers, and students, will continue to utilize these resources in the future.”

“I do believe this experience will help ‘normalize’ a level of online learning,” Montagna said. “I think teachers will likely incorporate more technology into their classrooms, not just in case of a future pandemic, but because some of these technological tools are a nice addition to traditional methods of teaching.”

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